Would Statehood Have Saved Cockfighting in Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. This means that while people born in Puerto Rico are natural-born U.S. citizens and must follow all U.S. laws, Puerto Rico has no voting representation in Congress. There are no U.S. senators from Puerto Rico, and just one non-voting member in the House of Representatives.

Common sense suggests that Puerto Rico loses out on lots of things — including equal treatment in federal health funding and tax credits — because of the lack of legislators. There is a general lack of congressional power and influence compared with states. Since Puerto Rico has no votes in the presidential election, there is no reason for the administration to court support from Puerto Rico. But it’s hard to point out any specific cases, because common sense still only gives us speculation.

Farm Bill Example

Now we have a more specific example to examine, in the recent Farm Bill’s provision on cockfighting. Current law allows cockfighting — fights between roosters specially bred and raised for the purpose — if the state or territory where the fights take place regulates the sport. Puerto Rico has regulated cockfighting since 1933.

Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 States. The current language of the law says that “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in an animal fighting venture” — except in a “State” (defined as “any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and any territory or possession of the United States”) where it is legal. That exception is being removed from the law and replaced by the simple statement: “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in an animal fighting venture.”

The Humane Society has been working to ban cockfighting for many years. “Cruelty is not culture,” the acting president of the organization told NPR. But it is a popular sport in Puerto Rico, and the ban will affect the Island’s economy.

Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon spoke up in the House of Representatives. She recognized that the Farm Bill will improve access to grants and programs, and expressed gratitude for that. On the other hand, she pointed out that with respect to cockfighting, “This is an industry that represents more than $18 million in our economy and also more than 27,000 direct and indirect jobs on the island. So we are talking about how distressful the economic situation on the island is, but then we are approving another Federal regulation without even consulting the people of Puerto Rico or even the territories.”

Since the sport is already illegal in all the States, the amendment is specifically directed toward the territories. Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico all have extensive histories of cockfighting. Yet the territories had no voice in the decision.

“In our case, we were not even allowed to vote for that amendment here on the floor, nor in the Senate,” said Gonzalez-Colon. “So territories will never have a say if we cannot vote, if we are not represented.”

Unplanned consequences

Not only will the end of cockfighting cause financial hardship in Puerto Rico, but there may be other serious consequences.

Gonzalez-Colon expects that cockfighting, which has been a part of the Island’s culture for centuries, “will go underground.” Since the government regulation currently provides revenue for the Island, the loss of that revenue will further harm the already struggling economy.

If the sport and its supporting industries do indeed go underground, the money involved could end up supporting organized crime instead.

The welfare of the participating birds is also a concern. Without government regulation, the birds may not be cared for properly. Members of the cockfighting clubs also wonder what will happen to their birds. In a conversation with NPR, one individual pointed out that there may currently be a million fighting cocks in Puerto Rico, and they cannot be released into the wild.

He speculates that federal agents will just have to kill all the birds.

Some legislators may have considered all these points and voted their consciences. Many will not have understood the possible consequences of their votes.

What if Puerto Rico were a state?

“[I]t is troubling that the territories were not given a proper chance to even debate this issue,” said Gonzalez-Colon. “We were not consulted in the drafting of this amendment or at any committee markup or as a congressional courtesy. I represent 3.2 million American citizens on the island, but I can’t vote on the floor. I don’t have any representation on the Senate side. But then we have another regulation coming to the island without even giving us an opportunity to debate it or an opportunity to actually vote against it.”

If Puerto Rico were a State, there would be two senators from Puerto Rico who would have been able to clarify the consequences of this small change in the Farm Bill. There would also be five Members of the House who could participate in the discussion and vote.

Gonzalez-Colon continued, “We can’t even challenge or sue the Federal Government with this, because the constitutional amendment provided that the territories are just a possession of the U.S. Congress and Congress can do whatever they want with us.”

 

 

3 Comments

Chris

We should legalize slavery. That would be worth more than 18 million a year and Puerto Rico could become a trading hub for supporting the US.

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